2007's been over for five months

>> Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Shocking, but it has, and I still have some books I read in that year that I have posted nothing about. The problem with these has been that they're great books, so I wanted to do better by them than a quick summary post. Yeah, yeah, I had the best intentions, but I really should be realistic here. I'll forget all about them before long, and until October / November if I'm lucky, I'm not going to get much more free time. So here we go, I wish I could have written long, in-depth posts about each of these, but c'est la vie!

TITLE: The Serpent Prince (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Hoyt

Oh, my, how I adored this book. By far the best Hoyt has written yet, and keep in mind that I loved the first two.

Lucy Craddock-Hayes is a young woman living in a sleepy village where nothing much happens. But that all changes when she finds a naked man half-dead in a ditch as she's walking home. With much doubt, Lucy drags him home with her.

The naked man is actually a viscount, Simon Iddesleigh, and his near-death experience was the result of his determination to avenge the death of his brother. This is something that has been all-consuming for him lately, but as he gets to know Lucy and they fall in love, he will need to decide what's most important to him.

Simon and Lucy were just amazing together. This was one of those rare books where you can actually feel the love between the main characters and understand why they're willing to go to whatever lengths for each other. I liked that though it was acknowledged quite early that they were in love, this didn't mean that there was no conflict any more. On the contrary, the conflict stemming from Simon need for revenge and his need for Lucy's love was an excellent, wrenching one.

Another outstanding thing about TSP was its tone. This is a book filled with humour, humour of the witty, intelligent and often bawdy kind, but this doesn't make it light. It doesn't diminish the angst factor in the least, and even makes us feel it all the more.

MY GRADE: An A-, beautiful.

NOTE: Follows The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince, but can be read on its own without any trouble.

TITLE: Fairyville
AUTHOR: Emma Holly

As always, Holly takes the kind of story that would ordinarily have this reader who usually prefers vanilla running hard in the opposite direction, and makes it immensely enjoyable. Medium Zoe Clare has been lusting after her landlord, Magnus, for years, but Magnus seems ready to have sex with every woman in town but her. What she doesn't know is that Magnus is an escapee from the world of the fae. Magnus actually is crazy about Zoe, but all the catting around is just what is required for him to be allowed to stay in the human world.

Not knowing this, though, Zoe has all but given up on Magnus, and when her first lover, Alex, comes back to town with his new boyfriend, Bryan, she's ready to enjoy herself with them. But Alex's return will brings some surprising revelations about all of them and their relationships.

Fairyville perfectly showcases what makes Holly's erotic romance so amazing. I love the way sex is always a wonderful, joyful thing in her books, not something ugly, or something that should bring guilt. There's all kinds of explorations and combinations here, and all feel healthy and beautiful and the right thing for these particular people to be doing. The romances are perfectly believable and I loved the paranormal element, which felt fresh and new.


TITLE: A Chance Encounter
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh

This is one of Balogh's very old, very hard to find Trad Regencies. It features Elizabeth Rossiter, a young governess living a quiet life in the countryside, whose tranquillity is shattered when the new owner of the nearby big house decides to settle there. Oh, the new owner himself is a nice guy, who's very kind and attentive to Elizabeth, but his guest, Robert, the Marquess of Hetherington, is someone out of Elizabeth's past. We don't know what the story is there, but it's clear he bitterly resents her and is determined to make her pay for whatever it was she did.

I'm very glad I read it, because it's vintage Balogh: an intense, emotional story, with both protagonists clearly drawn to each other in spite of their wishes. As I said, the reader doesn't know for a long while what exactly happened between those two, and this works wonderfully. Balogh reveals the details slowly, and when the big revelation came, while it was not exactly a shock, it was definitely not what I was expecting.


TITLE: Count to Ten
AUTHOR: Karen Rose

Count to Ten has Det. Mia Mitchell (who Rose fans will recognise from previous books) teaming up with Reed Solliday, a Lieutenant from the Chicago Fire Department to investigate a series of arson/murders. Mia and Reed's partnership is difficult from day one, as she's still conflicted about the case which landed her partner, Abe Reagan (also well known to old-time readers of this author) in hospital. As the case becomes more complicated and the body count rockets up, they're going to have to work together to solve it before Mia becomes endangered herself.

Karen Rose has quickly become one of my favourite romantic suspense writers. She can do what very few rom. susp. authors can, and make both the romance and the suspense strong, interesting and convincing. Mia and Reed were fully realised characters, with their distinct issues and personalities, and the development of their romance was believable in spite of having to happen in the middle of an intense investigation.

As for the investigation itself, that was just fascinating. The crimes were a teeny bit too graphic for my taste (I actually found them more difficult to read than those in Die For Me, and that book had Inquisition-style torture in it!), but the investigation of them and the way the police had to piece together the whys and hows behind it all were amazing.


TITLE: The Curse of Chalion
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

After spending years as a war prisoner, Cazaril manages to escape and go back home to Chalion, where he's hired as tutor to Iselle, sister of the heir to the throne. But it soon becomes clear that his duties won't be easy, as the throne is in danger and it ends up falling to him to save it. Lifting a powerful old curse on the royal family, making sure Iselle isn't forced into a disastrous marriage to the heir of the power-hungry family that has an unhealthy influence on the current ruler... the unprepossessing Cazaril manages the impossible.

I suppose Bujold is best known for her SF, but I love how she does fantasy as well. The Sharing Knife series is fantastic, and so is this one. Chalion is a rich, complex world, one with a well-developed history and traditions (did anyone else get a Medieval Spanish vibe from it?), and the best thought-out religion I've ever seen in fiction. It's a religion that plays an important role in the story, shaping the plot and the characters.

And the characters and story told against this backdrop are just as amazing. Cazaril is a classic LMB hero, with that kind of non-showy heroism I find so attractive. I wasn't completely won over by the romance (I didn't really feel the chemistry with the woman he ends up with, and she seemed much too young for him), but I was completely in love with him.


TITLE: Paladin of Souls
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

Paladin of Souls is the second book in the Chalion series, and is about Ista, the Dowager Royina, Iselle's mother. Long tormented by the gods and the curse on the royal family and thought to be mad, the lifting of the curse has given her some respite. However, she still finds her life in the fortress of Valenda oppressive, so she decides to go on a pilgrimage, not so much for religious reasons as to take a break from court life. While on it, a surprise attack on her party by a retreating party of raiders brings her to Porifors, the castle belonging to the dy Lutez family, one with which she shares a great deal of history. It turns out that it might not have been chance that brought her there, but further meddling from those troublesome gods. Because the dy Lutez family seems to have its own problems, involving the current governor, his wife and his brother, whose comatose state is not as straightforward as it seems.

While as rich and real as TCOC, and narrating events which are just as significant, POS has a quieter feel to it. It's not slow or at all boring, just... more leisurely, I'd say. As always, LMB's characters come alive and carry the plot. I wasn't really expecting much from Ista, but she turned out to be an amazing character. I loved the way she comes into her own during the story, becoming a very effective heroine and saving the day with her common sense and intelligence and willingness to see beyond the obvious and discover exactly what is going on with these people. There's a very lovely romance here as well, one that is as surprising as the situation in Porifors, and I liked it a bit better than the one in the first book.


TITLE: The Betrothal Ball (in Love's Legacy anthology)
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh

The next few are Christmas stories from Regency anthologies, all of which I read at Ana's, in Portugal, on the days coming up to Christmas.

With the first one, you can see why I decided to write this post now and get it over with. All I can remember about this book is what I noted down at the time. I wrote down the names of the characters: Laura Melford and Bram, Earl of Dearborne, that I'd rate this a B, and that I'd thought it was a bit too short at a mere 43 pages, but that Balogh did make it work. Period. I have absolutely no recollection of what it's about. *sigh* Anyone care to remind me of some details?

MY GRADE: A B, then.

NOTE: The reason why it's so short is that there are so many stories, 11 of them. This was a charity project of Leisure's, with the proceeds going to a literacy foundation.

TITLE: The Porcelain Madonna (in A Regency Christmas anthology)
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh

Now, this one I remember perfectly. I suppose it made much more of an impression, and no wonder, because it was a wonderful, heartwarming story. It's narrated solely from the point of view of Darcy Austin, Earl of Kevern, for whom Christmas isn't a joyful season but a reminder of his bereavement. He meets Julie Bevan when saving her from getting her pocket picked as she yearns for a porcelain madonna in a shop window, and after that, his cynism can't resist the onslaught of true Christmas feeling.

What made this story work was the hero's inner reactions to the perfect, sweet Christmas story happening around him. You see, he doesn't believe all that stuff for a second. On seeing Julie, he thinks that of course, she'll be the sweet and deserving impoverished gentlewoman, who wants the porcelain madonna for completely unselfish reason. And of course, he tells himself, the pickpocket will tell a hard-luck story about many brothers and sisters going hungry because he's either an orphan or his father has lost his job. And of course, she is and he does, so he's not surprised. But he's not as cynical as he thinks he is, and he clearly wants to believe it all. And sometimes, people are as good as a cynical person refuses to believe they can be.

Funny, sweet and lovely without being schmaltzy, this was the perfect Christmas story.


TITLE: The Best Christmas Ever (in A Regency Christmas III anthology)
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh

This one was a bit schmaltzy, but it still worked. Edwin Gwent's daughter, Anna, has been mute since the traumatic death of her mother. Visiting her grandparents at Christmas, she makes a secret wish for a new mother, and focuses her attention on Emma Milford. Emma and Edwin share a past, as he proposed to her years before and she rejected him, having decided to spend her life taking care of her parents. He still resents her for it, but at the same time, the attraction is still there.

Balogh is great at showing characters who tell themselves they should despise the other person and fail at it completely. Edwin is one such character, and I loved seeing him and Emma get a second chance at love. Emma's determination to martyr herself was a bit more problematic, but she's a very different person than she was all those years before, so I was able to enjoy the story anyway.


TITLE: A Handful of Gold (in Christmas Keepsakes anthology)
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh

Vicar's daughter Verity Ewing has become the sole support of her family after her father's death, and has had to resort to being a dancer to get funds. While performing as Blanche Heyward, she meets nobleman Julian Dare, who decides to make her his mistress. He invites her to spend Christmas with him and friends at a hunting lodge, in exchange for the "handful of gold" of the title, and she decides to take what she has decided is the unavoidable plunge and accept. But of course, once at the lodge, Julian realises that "Blanche" is not what he expected.

I liked most of this story, but I wasn't crazy about the device Balogh used to show Julian and his friends the error of their ways: the arrival of a clergyman and his family, stranded in the storm. I thought Julian and Verity's relationship was proceeding in a perfectly satisfactory manner even before that, and the other people were quite happy as they were. But eh, well, it was nice anyway. And I loved the ending!


TITLE: The Three Kings (in A Regency Christmas II anthology)
AUTHOR: Carla Kelly

Lady Sarah Comstock finds herself stranded in Spain during the Peninsular war, and needs to get to safety in Portugal, with some important papers. Spanish Colonel Luis Sotomayor agrees to escort her there. But the French troops are right behind them, and their journey is even more dangerous than they'd thought it would be.

This is probably not your typical Christmas story, as the tone is quite grim and somber, but I still liked it. I liked how it shows that even in the middle of the horrors of war, there can still be love and good feeling and people caring for one another. I wish we'd seen a bit more of Luis' point of view, as her male characters' inner monologues are one of my favourite things about CK's stories, but it was all good anyway. I especially liked the glimpse of a ceremony that's very similar to the "posada" I went to with my Mexican friends this Christmas. We've lost that tradition in Uruguay.


TITLE: The Undomestic Goddess
AUTHOR: Sophie Kinsella

Samantha Sweeting has the ultimate high-powered, high-stress career. She's been working herself to death at a London law firm since she got out of university, and her effort seems to be paying off. She's set to become the youngest partner ever, and if this is turning her into a dried-out husk who has no life outside of work, she tells herself she doesn't care. Until she makes a horrific, career-destroying mistake, and sees no choice but to run. Taking the first train out of London, she ends up in the middle of nowhere, knocking at the door of a big house to ask for a phone. And in a very Kinsella-esque turn of events, a case of mistaken identity ends up with her hired as the new housekeeper. Sam is completely clueless about anything to do with housework or cooking, but with the help of the hunky gardener, she gets her act together and realises she's enjoying herself much more than she was in her old life.

I enjoyed reading this, but in a way, it was a bit of a guilty pleasure. My feminist sensibilities had a lot of trouble with some things. Should this be read as saying that a woman can't stand the pressure of a high-powered job, that she's just better off keeping house? Or is this just about one particular woman for whom one choice is better than the other? I just closed my eyes tight and decided it was the latter. And having decided there wasn't a "message" in the book, I had no objection to Sam's decision that she was better off not pursuing that particular career. It was something I very much sympathised with, as someone who chose to give up a stressful, awful, demanding job that paid very well for one that was more satisfying, even though the money wasn't that good. It makes perfect sense to me to consider the effects on your whole life when deciding whether a a job is the right one for you.

However... here's the thing: what left a bad taste in my mouth was that Sam's choices were presented as so limited. It was all right throughout most of the book: she just happened to end up at this place and her job as a housekeeper was a bit of a refuge and an opportunity to heal. But the ending was the problem. While having Samantha have to choose between being a Carter Spinks partner and cleaning loos made a big effect, it was a completely false dichotomy. She could choose between being a Carter Spinks parner, cleaning loos, OR whatever else she wanted to do. With her reputation back and as high as ever, she could probably even get a job as a lawyer with whatever firm she wanted, maybe one with a much more relaxed attitude, or hey, maybe work as a lawyer in the countryside, advising people like Mr. Geiger. So the book ended in a bit of a low note, unfortunately.



Post a Comment

Blog template by simplyfabulousbloggertemplates.com

Back to TOP